Chapter 3 – Home: The Rules

Simon found himself back in his bedroom, staring up at the ceiling as he lay between the sheets on his bed. That was all he was allowed now. If he wasn't careful, he thought, he could be without a bed as well. He turned his head and saw a book on the floor where the nightstand used to be. Beside it was a small flashlight, not heavy enough to do any serious damage.

"I'm not going to read it," Simon said aloud as he folded his hands over his chest. "I'm not. I'm…" He fought back tears of pain and frustration as he struggled to regain a focus on things.

Simon made a list of things he did have: consciousness, contacts he could still possibly call once he got outside, credits he stashed away from his parents, sanity – somewhat, no broken bones – yet, no restraints, no full-time guard, and no one threatening to kill him or lock him away.

In terms of what he didn't have, Simon suspected that list would be much longer. At the top of that list was his sister. Everything else was secondary – problematic, but secondary.

He had no idea what time it was or what day it was. If his father had the syringe completely full, then whatever sedative used was probably doubled in dosage. Did his father have a different syringe, or did he use the same one his mother had used on him the last time? If so, did they at least have the sense enough to sterilize it?

He laughed out loud at that last thought. Here he was wondering how thorough his parents were in regards to something they had very little knowledge about. Thinking that thought through again, he was terrified of how much could and probably would go wrong if this kept up.

Simon felt trapped between a rock and a hard place. If he kept fighting, he'd be rendered useless either by drugs or beatings. On the other hand, if he did nothing, he might stand a chance of living. Of the two choices, which one served River best?

He decided on the foolish choice – fight. There was a possibility that he'd never make it outside of the gates. Knowing his father, the security codes were probably already changed. Given his luck, his father probably had control over more things than Simon could afford to lose.

Simon held his breath for a moment, listening to the sounds from downstairs. Nothing. Either his parents were sleeping, out, or in some other part of the house. He wondered how his parents would explain away his absence, his failure, let alone his arrest. Was it even a topic brought up? If so, was it during dinners or over martinis? Did his parents attend as many balls as before or would it be fewer now with him being home? How long would it last?

"Simon, are you awake?" He continued to stare at the ceiling.

He liked Lucinda immensely. She had spent much time with the Tam children as they grew up, had engaged them in conversation as if they mattered. Even if River, by age five, grew bored with the 'limited' topics that Lucinda could discuss, the maid never dismissed them.

He wondered how things stood now between the two of them. Was she there to act as spy? Silent supporter? Or was she just doing her job as she had always done?

"Come on now, you need your strength." She walked up to the bed, a chair in one hand, a bowl in the other. "There's no reason for you to get sick, you know. Then what happens?"

He wanted to know how she'd respond to the fact that he had several bruised ribs thanks to Benat.

"Your mother's worried about you," she said, stirring the bowl's contents.

He inhaled deeply, regretting it since he had his mind set on starving. He whispered, "She helped do this to me,"

Lucinda held a spoonful of porridge to his lips. "That isn't true."

"What's truth?" He took comfort in that it had to be the next day. Lucinda was particular about how things went on in the kitchen, altering plans only for a dinner party.

"You know the answer to that," she said, in the same way she always did when encouraging him during his lessons. She was kind, caring - things his parents were not.

Simon turned away from the spoon. "Do I? My parents think I'm crazy."

Lucinda clicked her tongue. "You are not crazy, Simon. Seriously stressed, there's no doubt about that. You are smart and sensitive. Stop struggling. Do that and you'll survive."

"Do that," Simon said, "and River might be dead."

"There's no need to be so dramatic. Be glad that you've got family looking after you. It could be worse. You could be on one of them rim planets struggling for the basics that the Alliance has so blessedly provided." Lucinda paused, pulling the bowl back with her. "Or worse, you could be among one of them dreaded 'independents' who wish for and relish in that kind of suffering for others."

Simon sat up at that remark. "You don't believe that, do you?"

"I don't have to tell you what I believe." She pointed at him with the bowl. "You're up now, so eat."

It was then that he noticed the change of clothes. Lifting up the top sheet, he grunted. "Huh. Gray tee-shirt and dark blue bottoms. Swell color choices."

Lucinda shook her head as if wondering why he dwelled on trivial things. "Hush now and eat."

He thought about resisting, but the growling of his stomach lodged its own protest. Hungrily, he complied. When he finished, Lucinda wished him a better day, then left. Simon noted that Lucinda locked the door when she left the room. Good. That meant she had a key, and if she had a key, he had a chance, and if he had a chance-.

Benat walked in.

"No chance," Simon said softly to himself.

"You don't know what your father is asking you to do yet," Benat said, misunderstanding.

"He's asking me? Wow, will wonders never cease." He remained sitting in bed.

Benat cracked the knuckles on both of his hands, forcing Simon to wince. "So, this is your choice?"

Simon shook his head. "Like you said, I don't know what he's asking me to do yet."

"Good answer. Get dressed." Off of Simon's questioning look, Benat opened the closet door to take down a pair of pressed slacks and a bleached white shirt from the lone hanger. "Your father's waiting for you."

Simon waited for Benat to turn around. When that didn't happen, Simon slowly turned his back to the driver and changed clothes. "I'm still sock-less," he said.

"That doesn't matter," Benat said, holding the door open.

For a moment, Simon imagined the two of them walking down the stairs, Simon in the lead, and Benat shoving him down. Simon quickly turned his back to the rail. "Aren't you coming?"

"Your father is waiting for you."

Simon stood at the doorway, his hands behind his back as Gabriel continued reading his book. Simon thought back to a time when his father would at least talk to him and River before dismissing them. "Father?"

"Yes, Simon?" Gabriel said without looking up from his reading.

Simon kept his eyes focused on the Oriental rug ahead of him, woven in its threads a universe of games that he and River would play together, to pass the time, to stay together, to have fun. They'd often sit on the floor and read to each other for hours on end, and then silently side by side when their father wanted peace.

"You sent for me," he said, wondering what the other man was expecting. If it was an apology, Simon wasn't ready for it. If it was to beg, it was too early for that, too.

Gabriel made a brief gesture, instructing Simon to sit down in the chair opposite him. After taking his time finishing his reading did the father finally acknowledge his son's presence. "These are the rules. Follow them and you should have a painless recovery. Choose not to, and I cannot tell you how often incidents like last night might reoccur. Understand?"

Simon bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at the absurdity of the words while keeping back the fears that threatened to resurface. Simon nodded slowly.

"You are not to be outside of your room unless your mother or I have sent for you or granted permission. You are not going to attend any social gatherings, nor be heard during said gatherings, unless you want to find yourself locked in the basement. You are not to go outside of this house unless it is with Benat, or Lucinda or Park. You are not to question the requests Benat, Lucinda, your mother, or I make to you. You are not to speak unless spoken to, nor speak to anyone outside of this house. You will not use the source box or any other forms of communication – I have already blocked access to you. You are not to bring up this nonsense in any way, shape or form. And finally, you are not to cause your mother or me any more grief. Do I make myself clear?"

Simon thought about the rules and almost made a request to be taken back to the penitentiary. Instead, he looked back down at the carpet and said, "Yes, sir."

"Good. Now, your mother and I have errands to run, so I trust you'll behave yourself."

Simon felt the sun on his face, warming the coldness within. He heard birds chirping nearby; he inhaled the sweet lavender that calmed him for the moment; he tasted clean air so opposite and welcoming to the stale cell that reeked of his odor; he saw brightness behind closed eyes and prayed it was not all an illusion. A sound of glass tapping glass infected the nature around him.

"He looks so healthy when he sleeps," a voice said nearby. "The boy needs to be out here more often, I tell you."

"Yes," a woman's voice answered. "Shameful it happens only briefly. "Park, do try not to ruin the prized roses this time, please. And remember, Mrs. Tam needs some for a centerpiece for this evening."

"Yes, Lucinda."

Simon listened to a set of footsteps fade, then the opening and closing of a door. Park was here. Mother always had him here on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so there was a fifty-fifty chance Simon could guess what the day was. That depended on the fact that Park's schedule hadn't changed. And if it was still Fall, then it could be Wednesday. That changed probability slightly.

He listened to the rhythm of the clippers and falling limbs, remembering when he and River used to play hide-and-seek out here when their parents weren't home. Park always let them play games, acting as their protector. Lucinda allowed it, but never full-heartedly. And Benat was never about to offer an opinion one way or another.

Park, Simon learned, had intended to be an art teacher until his children grew ill, forcing him to approach the Tams for assistance. He had been their gardener ever since. Simon smiled at the memory of River peppering Park with questions about every blade of grass, every shrub, everything she could think of pertaining to botany. Simon would have joined her had he not acted the part of 'proper child' and kept to his studies.

Don't close your eyes to life, Lucinda had always said.

"Open your eyes."

Simon felt a bit coolness close to his face. He opened his eyes to see Park holding a glass of ice water in front of Simon. "You got to stay hydrated out here, Mr. Simon, unless you want to get worse."

"Thank you, Park," he said, sitting up to accept the offering. "There are some things I don't want to end, sometimes." Simon paused. "Well, maybe you dropping the 'mister' bit – I could gladly see that end," he said smiling.

Park nodded as he mopped his brow. "I understand what you mean about the weather today. Also understand that too much of dreams and nonsense get you nothing but emptiness, too. I'm not saying that you should already be back at work. It's just that, while the body and mind need rest, too much leads to a more permanent sleep. You're too young for that."

"Seem to be old enough for a midlife crisis," Simon said.

Park smiled. "Well, you do seem to rush into things earlier than others. With the exception of River, that is." Simon frowned at the mention of her name. Park noticed. "You two will be together again, don't worry. It might be longer than you'd like, that's all."

"There are times I fear I'll never see her again, Park. Then what do I do?" He heard Lucinda approach from behind, this time with a tray carrying lunch for the three of them.

"That's insanity talking now, Simon," she said as she sat down, distributing the midday meal for them all.

"Thank you," Simon said, taking a half a sandwich. "What day is it?"

Park and Lucinda exchanged glances before answering. "Don't worry yourself, Simon," she said. "You get the two of us for company."

"And if I dare say so," Park said, "we make pretty good company at that, don't we, Lucy."

Simon smiled. At times he wondered why he didn't have a father like Park – stern yet good-natured, guiding and sensitive. Lucinda, on the other hand, had always been the logical one, the one who believed in order and kept the house operating to perfection. In some respects, Simon saw himself in Lucinda. Nevertheless, it was Lucinda who showered him with love – never a shortage of hugs or kisses, unlike Mother.

Simon listened to the two of them, realizing that it had been a long time since he heard 'normal talk' that he drank it in greedily. Once his parents came home, he was sure that he would be sent back to his room, this blessed world closed off to him until who knew when. He had yet to determine how much time had passed since his father had gone over the rules.

"Storm's a coming," Park said as he got up to gather his tools. "Enough of those brew up and certain trails will be washed away, Mr. Simon," he said pointing towards the fence.

Lucinda's voice rose slightly in pitch. "Park! Don't go-!"

"Lucy, I'm just giving the young man a lesson in weather and erosion. See if he remembers any science outside of anatomy." Park gave him a wink Lucinda couldn't see.

Simon quietly cleared the table, hoping to slip away from the two of them before he ruined anything further. Part of him wondered if Park was referring to the hole in the gate by the hodgeberry bushes that grew on the other side of the house, away from his parents' bedroom window or the study.

Lucinda took the tray away from Simon and clicked her tongue. "Park, don't go putting ideas in this boy's head now, do you hear me? He's gone a whole-." She caught herself. "He's doing well now, no sense jeopardizing it."

"You know that your parents are hosting a dinner next week, Simon?" Park asked.

Simon said, "They won't let me attend."

Park seemed to already know that answer. "Well, who knows? It's possible your parents might change their minds, right?"

"Shouldn't I be so lucky," Simon said doubting. He wondered if River was meeting and interesting people now; if she was still at the Academy or held against her will still in some forsaken Alliance Facility.

"Oh, please, Simon," Lucinda said. "At least pretend to want to attend. That nice Camberson girl will be there."

Park nodded, as if winning a minor contest. "See, Simon? You need to take your steps back into society, proper, and who better than Ms. Camberson?"

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